This timeline chronicles not only personal events in the life of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, but also literary milestones and historical landmarks that occurred during her lifetime. In it, Frances E. W. Harper will be referred to as Watkins until her marriage to Fenton Harper in 1860. The ages that follow each year refer to Harper’s age at the given time.
1825 – Frances E. Watkins, daughter of free black parents, born in Baltimore, Maryland on September 24, 1825
1828 – 3yr – Watkins is orphaned and relocates to live with Aunt and Uncle Watkins
1829 – 4yr – Frances Wright begins publication of The Free Enquirer
1833 – 8yr – Lydia Maria Child, Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans
1834 – 9yr – American Female Moral Reform Society (AFMR) formed
1835 -10yr – Lydia Maria Child, A History of the Condition of Women
1836 – 11yr – Catharine Ester Beecher, Letters on the Difficulties of Religion
1837 – 12yr – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “An Oration”
1838 – 13yr – Underground Railroad organized
1839 – 14yr – The mill girls of Lowell, Massachusetts, begin publishing The Lowell Offering, a monthly magazine of poetry, fiction and essays
1846 – 21yr – Watkins, Forest Leaves
1847 – 22yr – Charlotte Bronte, Jane Eyre and Emily Bronte, Wuthering Heights
1849 – 24yr -Harriet Tubman escapes to the North and begins working with the Underground Railroad. Tubman helps at least 300 slaves to escape before the Civil War; during the war, she worka as a nurse, cook, laundress, and, it is said, as a spy behind Confederate lines for the Union forces. Hawthorne publishes The Scarlet Letter.
1850 – 25yr – Watkins taught sewing as the first female teacher at Union Seminary in Columbus, Ohio
1851 -26yr – Watkins works as a teacher in Little York, Pennsylvania. Melville pens Moby Dick;
Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
1852 -27yr – Watkins, The Two Offers
Frederick Douglass, “The Heroic Slave”
1853 -28yr – Watkins moves to Philadelphia. Her poem, “Eliza Harris,” is published in Frederick Douglass’ Paper on December 23, 1853. Her poems “Saved by Faith,” “The Contrast,” and “The Drunkard’s Child” are employed by the Maine Anti-Slavery Society to carry the abolitionist message across New England to audiences that included women and men of all races and backgrounds. Paulina Davis publishes Una, the first women’s rights magazine in the U.S., and Thoreau authors Walden.
1854 – 29y – The second edition of Watkins’ Poems on Miscellaneous Subjects is released.
1855 – 30yr – Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass
1858 -33yr – Harper writes “Bury Me In A Free Land.” Lincoln is nominated to oppose Stephen Douglas for the Senate. The Lincoln-Douglas debates take place. Darwin, The Origin of Species and Harriet Wilson Our Nig, first novel by an African-American woman, are published.
1859 -34yr- Frances Ellen Watkins Harper publishes “The Two Offers” in AngloAfrican. She writes to Mary Brown, wife of John Brown, on November 14, 1859.
1860 -35yr- Abraham Lincoln elected U.S. president. Watkins marries Fenton Harper from Cincinnati, Ohio. [Note: She will be referred to as Harper on the timeline after this date.]
1861 -36yr – Civil War begins. Harper writes the poem “To the Union Savers of Cleveland.” Harriet Davies publishes Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl.
1862 -37yr – Harper settles in Columbus, Ohio where her daughter Mary is born.
1864 -39yr – Harper’s husband dies. President Lincoln is assassinated and Andrew Johnson becomes U.S. president. The Civil War ends. Harper writes Moses: A Story of the Nile. Carroll publishes Alice’s Adventure in Wonderland.
1865 -40yr – 13th Amendment to the Constitution, abolishing slavery, goes to the states for ratification
1866 -41yr – The Civil Rights Act of 1866
1867 -42yr – Harper begins her southern lecture tours which continue until 1871. The Suffrage Association founded.
1869 -44yr – Harper, Minnie’s Sacrifice
1870 -45yr – Harper moves to 1008 Bainbridge Street in Philadelphia – Congress enacts the “Ku Klux Klan Act of 1870” or “Enforcement Act” to stop southern white resistance to the power African Americans have gained during Reconstruction.
1874 -49yr – Harper writes poems “The Tennessee Hero,” “Free Labor,” “Lines,” “The Dismissal of Tyng,” “The Slave Mother, a Tale of the Ohio,” “Rizpah, the Daughter of Ai,” and “Ruth and Naomi”
1871 – 46yr – Harper releases Poems
1875 -50yr – Civil Rights Act states that no citizen can be denied equal use of public facilities.
1880 -55yr – Harper, another edition Poems
1881 -56yr- Clara Barton founds the National Society for the Red Cross
1883 -58yr – Harper writes “Eliza Harris”
1885 – 60yr –The Washington Monument in Washington D.C. dedicated after 36 years of construction.
1886 – 61yr – Statue of Liberty dedicated in New York Harbor on October 28, 1886.
1887 -62yr – Harper releases Sketches on a Southern Life
1889 -64yr – Harper authors “For the 25th Anniversary of The Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons”
1890 -65yr – Emily Dickinson, Poems
1891 -66yr – Harper, poem “In Commemoration of the Centennial of the A. M. E. Church”
1892 – 67yr – Harper, Iola Leroy; or Shadows Uplifted and poem “To Bishop Payne”
1894 -69yr – Harper, The Martyr of Alabama
1895 -70yr – Harper writes a series of poetry collections: The Sparrow’s Fall and Other Poems, Poems, and Atlanta Offering: Poems
1896 -71yr – National Association of Colored Women formed
1899 -74yr – Harper, poem “The Vision of the Czar of Russia”
1901 -76yr – Harper, Idylls of the Bible
1902 -77yr – The Free Colored People of North Carolina association formed
1903 -78yr – DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk
1909 -84yr – W. E. B. DuBois (1868-1963) helps to found the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP).
1911 – 86yr – Frances Ellen Watkins Harper dies at the age of 86.